MODE – Exit the “fast fashion”? In the midst of sales, which begin this Wednesday, January 12, you may have trouble finding “made in China” labels in some stores. For several years, ethical French brands have decided to bring the places of creation closer to the places of manufacture of clothes. Objective: to guarantee the quality of products despite higher prices. And in this equation, one country has particularly attracted entrepreneurs: Portugal.
Among the brands that have yielded to the Lusitanian appeal is Asphalte, created in 2016. Its co-founder William Hauvette claims it, “the efficiency of the quality-price ratio” convinced him to set up its production in Portugal. “We were looking for a place that was consistent with the company’s mission, which is to make quality accessible ”, he explains in Huffpost. A possible project, among other factors, thanks to the lower costs than in France and a minimum monthly wage half as high: 775 against 1,550 euros.
In the end, Asphalt’s denim pants cost the customer 100 euros. “If it had been produced in France, it would cost 140 or 150 euros. Or we should have lowered our quality to sell for less, which was not our goal. We have also eliminated Asia for reasons of social law. With the European Union, workers are much better protected, we are sure that they work in good conditions ”, he explains. Today, 82% of its production is located in the Portuguese-speaking country.
A know-how acclaimed by French brands
“Their know-how is very good, particularly in jeans, knits and leather goods, which makes them a destination with good value for money”, confirms Simoné Eusebio, communications director at Make My Lemonade, a brand created in 2015 and of which nearly half of the clothes (42%) are also made in Portugal.
Chrysoline de Gastines, co-founder of Balzac Paris which produces more than 85% of its clothes in this country, also emphasizes this quality “which is based on family businesses”. She also stresses the advantage of working with employees who can speak French and with whom communication can therefore be more fluid.
Portugal, for its part, has understood the attraction it aroused, especially among brands that want to be more ethical, explains the website Marques de France. Even if it means giving a chance to brands which were only in their infancy. “These are the first factories to have agreed to work with us. They told us ‘come on, we want to embark on this adventure’, even if we produce small quantities ”, explains Simoné Eusebio of Make My Lemonade. A winning bet: the brand experienced 140% growth in 2019.
“Made in France is not a guarantee of quality”
This movement, initiated “5 or 10 years ago, after the massive departure for Asia,” believes William Hauvette, could soon convince major brands to relocate to Portugal, or more broadly to Europe. Previously El Dorado of clothes, China finds itself confronted with repeated scandals, summoned to explain itself on the forced labor of the Uyghur minority.
The Covid-19 pandemic also had an impact, assures Chrysoline de Gastines: “At the beginning, only a small part of the clients who came to Balzac for his engagement. With the Covid, mentalities have taken a giant leap. There has been an awareness of the meaning of the carbon footprint and environmental issues in general ”which could disrupt consumption habits. She even claims that the purchase has become a political act: “Today, the customer consciously puts the price on a garment. By buying, she votes. ”
If Portugal is asserting itself as the new place of manufacture, the “made in France”, on the other hand, is struggling to impose itself, even with brands that claim to be ethical. It’s not for lack of trying for Chrysoline de Gastines, who says she was disappointed after a first test with Parisian workshops. “We realized that French manufacturing was not as glorious as what the label said: the working conditions were not ideal, the factories were not very sustainable … We were keen to find a factory in Europe (…) Portugal has imposed itself, because it has not had any deindustrialisation there unlike France which has lost its know-how ”, defends the entrepreneur.
A point of view also shared by Simoné Eusebio, from Make My Lemonade: “The made in France is not a guarantee of quality. In addition, it’s too expensive to produce: when we launch a brand with a price positioning that is not exorbitant as is our case, we cannot increase the price by 100% at once.″.
Towards a reindustrialization of France?
However, not all of the brands questioned have completely given up on the idea of developing their production in France. Make My Lemonade, for example, made successful fanny packs in France. “We had to negotiate several times and promise that there would be a substantial production before succeeding”, relates Simoné Eusebio before adding: “But to launch a product, it’s too complicated.”
Same ambition on the side of Balzac Paris, which notably joined the Collectif tricolore. The latter aims to revive the wool industry alongside companies like Le Slip Français or Saint-James. This is not, however, the objective of Asphalt. “Unlike these brands, our mission is not to reindustrialize France. Our desire is to offer affordable prices, but this is impossible on the national territory. We are aware that jeans costing 100 euros are expensive but at 150 euros, we will have no impact ”, explains William Hauvette.
However, he does not rule out collaborations with French factories. The proof, the brand created its striped shirt with a tricolor workshop. “This sweater costs 150 euros, whereas it would have been 110 euros if it had been produced in Portugal,” he emphasizes. But the sailor sweater is a French institution, we wanted to manufacture it in our country. ” A first thread on the leg for those who also ensure: “Relocating is the meaning of history”.
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